Peak(s):  Nevado Urus 17,495
Nevado Ishinca 18,143
Date Posted:  08/05/2022
Date Climbed:   06/18/2022
Author:  Camden7
 Peru Part IV: Easy but Excellent   

If you have not read Peru Part I, Peru Part II, and Peru Part III, I would recommend you do so, otherwise very little of this will make sense. If you pure goal is route info on Ishinca and Urus, you are in the right spot.

Also, I apologize for not writing this sooner, but life has been a little crazy between summer homework, my first job, and climbing lots of other mountains since we got back to Colorado.

Chapter 8: Easy can be Good

Saturday, June 17th

The taxi arrived on time (7 am), and everything went smoothly arriving at Collon and finding our arranged arriero (donkey driver) met us in Huillac, the tiny pueblo above Collon. Most taxi drivers stop in Collon, two miles below the trailhead, but ours was feeling nice, and took us all the way. We left our things with our arriero and started the hike around 7:50, at about 11,100 feet. Our packs were about 12 pounds each, a blessing that can be granted only by burros. They are your friends.

After starting out with a couple switchbacks, the trail levels out and counters through farmland high above the creek, before crossing a lovely pasture at 11,800.

The following section is the steepest part of the approach, with loose cobbles painfully reminiscent of the Lake Como Road below Little Bear Peak back in Colorado. After the steep climb, the trail enters the glacial canyon at 12,700. From here, the approach becomes much more enjoyable, winding gradually along the creek through old growth Quinual Trees, lovely streams, and flower-filled meadows. Best of all, there are views of Palcaraju Oeste for much of the upper approach, and a couple points even give views of Tocllaraju and Ocshapalca.

The lower section of the approach.
Around 11,800 with Jatuncunca above.

A short distance into the canyon, the alternate approach from Pashpa joins for the last 4 miles of pleasant walking. Starting from the standard approach, base camp is 7 miles from the Trailhead, 7.8 from Huillac, and 8.6 from Collon. From the trailhead, it took us just over 4 hours going at a very relaxed pace.

Pretty Quintal Stand.
Los Torres del Ishinca, some beautiful rock towers on the north side of the valley. A 10 pitch 5.11+ trad line ascends
them, called "La Karma de los Condores"

We set up camp, and spent the afternoon chatting with people around camp. The large outfitted groups are generally not interested in chatting, so we talked first with Danni, a guide from Huaraz that was up there to scout conditions on Tocllaraju. He was very impressed to hear we were going to attempt Ranrapalca, as no-one had made the summit yet this year. We than talked to a large group of Ecuadorian guides-in-training, lead by Julia, an absolute badass that was out here leading and teaching a group of entirely dudes, it was cool to see. We chatted with her for quite a while. She had been up the west face direct on Toclla the previous day, and had "opened" the route for the season, along with a German team. They planned on trying to open the northwest ridge route (standard route) but no-one had made the summit mushroom fro a few years, so she was not optimistic. She said the conditions were completely unconsolidated due to the wet weather patterns. In her words, "This weather is fucking shit. Ecuador is humid. Peru is supposed to be dry!"

Ishinca Base camp at 14,345, the lowest camp on the trip. Tocllaraju at left, what a mountain.

We went to bed early, the alarm set for 2 am to climb little Nevada Urus Este the following day.

Sunday, June 18th

After 35 minutes trying to force down breakfast and clamber out of our bags, we set out to find the trail for Urus. It is a little faint at first but if you walk 50 yards northwest from the Refugio there are some small cairns and faint paths that eventually all come together to form a good but brutally steep trail. It uses the "Peruvian Switchback Method", where the trail goes 8 to 10 feet left, then 8 to 10 feet right, repeat. This allows the fall line to be tackled on a slope that is a little too steep to walk up directly, without adding the extra distance of normal switchbacks. The first 3/4 mile climbs 1,800 feet up to a point at 16,100, with good views of the remaining route. On this section it started snowing, and didn't quit until two inches of powder made everything very slick.

A dramatic but short lived sunrise.
Fog and fresh snow.
Our first view of 20,218 foot Ranrapalca, what an impressive and alluring peak!

From here, a tiny, shallow basin lies below two snowfields that are separated by a rock rib. You will want to follow one of the now-braided trails that follows the right or east side of this small basin for 500 feet, before trending back to the northwest to reach the west side of the rock rib. The route follows the ramp below the rib, this was still covered in snow for us (about 45 degrees), but would be 3rd class scrambling when dry. Once the glacier is gained, you will want to ascend the lower corner of it and exit the snow as quickly as possible, because the glacier is crevassed higher up but no rope is necessary if you cut right up a 50 degree snow chimney (4th class rock if dry) to gain the rock rib at 16,900.

The route "crux" if you can call it that, gaining the rock rib.
Starting the second snow field after the rock rib.

From here, there is a small, level boulder field (class 2), followed by 300 feet on 35 degree snow, again, free of crevasses. This deposits you in a saddle at 17,200, between the summit of Urus Este on the west, and a cool rock fin on the east.

Dad in the saddle.

300 feet of easy but occasionally exposed 40 degree climbing lead to the summit, at 17,495. This route is typically considered PD, and I suppose that is accurate, but if you read Peru Part I, you will know that Pisco has the same rating but is worlds harder. Pisco we struggled on with a rope, Urus was a breeze without one.

We relaxed on the summit for a while and enjoyed the success and comfort after our trouble on Huascaran and the scares some of the other parties had. It was our lowest and easiest peak of the trip, and it honestly was just refreshing.

The view east to Laguna Akilpo and Nevados Akilpo and Tocllaraju is inspiring
On the summit.

On the descent, we followed our route back to the little viewpoint at 16,100, but upon seeing another trail dropping down to the Refugio a little further east, we decided to check it out. Just by luck, we had climbed the less steep and loose trail, then descended the more direct one that had nice gravel for sinking your heels into. I would recommend going up the western option, then down the eastern. It took us 7 hours flat, with over half an hour lounging on the stunning summit.

Looking back down to camp from ~15,900

After returning to camp we played down to rest for a moment before packing up camp. We accidentally slept for 2 hours. That never happens in Colorado, I guess that is what elevation does for you. We packed up, and started walking southeast out of base camp, bound for Ishinca Moraine Camp at 16,300, on the shores of beautiful Laguna Ishinca.

After the 3,200 foot climb of Urus that morning we weren't wrecked, but we weren't entirely fresh either. We estimated our packs at ~55-60 pounds, which was heavier than I am used to carrying. The climb up to Moraine Camp starts with some gradual switchbacks up a steep face to gain a level meadow at 15,200. This meadow has some nice tent spots close to water at the lower end if you so desired to camp at an intermediate location.

The 900 foot initial climb was a big struggle for me, and at the top Dad took 5 pounds from my pack. We ate some food, drank some water, and got on our way. The long meadow offers easy walking, before the trail climbs a few more tight switchbacks through neat boulders and past moss-covered slabs to reach a second, smaller basin at 15,600. There are some more tent spots here, less level than the lower ones, but closer to water and far more aesthetic, in addition to closer to Ishinca's summit if that is your goal. Somewhere in here I got a second wind, perhaps from food, or the lighter pack, I can't say. Regardless of where this energy came from, it allowed me to take back not only my 5 lbs, but also the rope (our guide would carry up the second rope for Ranrapalca). It was a big struggle to make it to Moraine Camp, and I think neither of us could have done it with out being able to exchange weight when we needed to. In the end, it took us 3.5 hours to do 2,000 feet and less than 3 miles. We stopped a lot and walked at a glacial pace.

Leaving the upper meadow with 18,143 foot Ishinca above.
A tired but happy Dad with evening light on 20,218 foot Ranrapalca.

We arrived at the Vivaque Refugio (more like a dilapidated wooden hut) and began setting up camp on a seemingly suspended platform perched atop the moraine at the lakes shore. It was a fantastic spot, one of the best I have ever camped.

Vivaque refugio with the Urus Massif behind.
A spectacular view of the famous North Face Route on Ranra. I think it is stained 70+ degrees snow for 3k feet with 3 rock bands the hardest of which is like 5.8 or something, and a giant overhanging cornice at the top. Our guide thought we were up for it. We laughed at him and said "standard route will do, thanks"

A large outfitted group was staying in the Refugio, lead by a woman from Kanab Utah who lead all women (except for guides, porters, and cooks) climbing teams on cool adventures around the world.

I set up the tent while Dad filtered water, which turns out to be a little bit of an ordeal, a the lake is about a 7 minute walk away, over steep and rocky terrain, so carrying everything back up is hard when you are this exhausted. We had just fired up the stove and were talking of how desperately we needed calories and sleep to be recovered for tomorrow when a guide from the the outfitted group walked over with a plate full of spaghetti and red sauce and a giant pot of soup. And you know what he said?

"You Finish!" – Guide

Sometimes the universe delivers. We needed calories, we needed to save the time of cooking food to sleep, and this wonderful man delivered the universe mail, kind of like Oogway. Thanks to those of you that understand elementary school pop-culture.

With nice full bellies, we watched the sunset, then went to bed.

Laguna Ishinca and Nevado Ranrapalca sunset.

Chapter 9: Yeah, Easy is Real Good

Monday, June 19th

We slept in. We ate breakfast. We enjoyed the view. We at second breakfast. Slowly packed up. Stretched in the sunshine. Stashed some gear so our packs would be lighter. It was fantastic.

Morning light with frost covered tent. Ranrapalca behind.
Morning light with frost covered tent. Urus Central and Urus Este behind.

The route from Moraine camp to high camp is very straightforward and easy for the most part, and it would be completely reasonable to skip the night at MC if you didn't climb Urus the morning before, although MC is lovely so I would recommend breaking the ascent to High Camp into 2 days if you have the time. A 100 foot descent from the Refugio to the old lake outlet (they did some concert work at some point for flood mitigation or something and changed the location of the outlet) starts off the days hike, then a gradual climb up a morainal ramp on the west side of the lake. This ramp climbs from 16,250 to 16,700, enabling access around the cliffs surrounding the lake. Well, it gets around most of the cliffs... The ramp dead ends into a precipitous edge, and you are forced to go east up the face, before continuing your ascent to the southeast. This detour involves a horrific 250 foot climb/ascending traverse of class 2 loose sand and class 2+ rock ledges, all with a 400+ foot cliff right below you. My advise would be that you shouldn't have any trouble unless you fall.

After the cliffy traverse you can see the remainder of the route to high camp. For scale that boulder is 100+ feet
tall by my estimation

At least the view is great where the enjoyment of the trail diminishes.

Beyond the steep detour, the path descend 100 feet to the edge of the glacier. There is still a cliff for much of this. Once cramponed up, re-sunscreened, and harnessed, we got on our merry way. Early season or on a high snow year (or both in this case) it is most likely fine to go unroped on the glacier as long as you stay on the path that is beat in from people descending Ishinca's South Ridge. We chose to rope because there are crevasses in the area. About 5 minutes onto the glacier there is an area that is safe from objective hazard and serves as "North Face Camp", around 17,100. If the North Face of Ranrapalca is your goal, stop here. If you are continuing to the Northeast Face on Ranra, or the South Ridge of Ishinca, continue up the 20-25 degree glacier.

As no-one had been on the NE Face yet this year, there was no established camp yet. The obvious choices were at 17,400 on top of a small knoll below the ridge, or a shelf at 17,450 closer to the saddle where the route starts. We. chose option A, as it is more protected from objective hazard, more spacious, and has a better view (just kidding, its all beautiful).

After setting up camp, we evaluated the weather, and decided an afternoon ascent of Ishinca was in the cards. It was the only peak of the trip that we didn't start in the dark. From High Camp, Ishinca is a meager 743 feet above. The route up to the ridge is gradual and would be boring if not for the views. Once joining the broad ridge at 17,600, the route steepens to about 35 degrees, and becomes more interesting with a handful of 10 to 12 inch step acrosses over crevasses. These could be larger later in the season. Because of these, I would not encourage an ascent of this route unroped. Around 17,800, the ridge narrows down and the position is spectacular with huge exposure and views off both sides, but never with any real danger of falling.

A fantastically cliche picture of me striking the "mountaineers pose" at around 17,700.

Around 17,850 as the ridge begins to narrow and the views open up.

Then, around 18,100, just when it seems the fight is done (Was there really a fight in the first place?), the summit mushroom rears its ugly (actually beautiful) head.

me beneath the last 50 feet of the route.

Most guided parties ascend one of the easier northern routes then rappel this short pitch and walk the rest of the way down, making a, lets see, how would Roach say it?

A tidy tour de Ishinca. We were each carrying one tool, no belay device, and no pro, so we basically just soloed up one at a time, the other prepared to arrest a fall although realistically you weren't gonna yard off the mountain if you slipped, just tumble back to the base of the pitch. One tool and no belay made this 60ish degree summit pitch interesting, but it was stepped out but traffic, so not a problem.


4th summit of the trip, baby!

The view to the north doesn't suck. the Tocllaraju glacier is impressively broken.

Nevado Palcaraju (20,584) is a true beauty, this was our first view of it out of the clouds, and we didn't expect the little summit cone.
View of Ishinca south ridge from high camp.

Upon returning to camp, a team had joined us, two Germans and an Austrian. They were the ones that had done the west face direct on Toclla a few days prior, and were planning on a Ranrapalca attemp the following day.

We all enjoyed the sunset, one of the best I have seen, then went to bed, but not until after some excitement that I will cover in the final installment of my Peru trip reports.

Sunset with the Nemo.

To continue reading see Peru Part V about Nevados Ranrapalca 20,218 and Tocllaraju 19,619 in addition to our travel home. It will be linked here once completed, thanks for your patience.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
08/06/2022 09:24
great work Camden, looks like the trip of a lifetime!

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